Collaborating with Purpose in a Connected World

by Karl De Abrew, Chief Information Officer

Collaborating with Purpose in a Connected World
Collaborating with Purpose in a Connected World

Hello, I’m Karl De Abrew, chief information officer at Foxit Software. Our company, which is growing at pace, has over four hundred employees in more than a dozen countries. Obviously we want our employees to work synergistically. And, while existing and emerging technologies play a huge role in helping us achieve that goal, in this blog article I’m going to look at the impact of human factors in ensuring our people collaborate effectively.

When previous generations started in the workforce, they had the same tools as everybody else, including the generations that had come before them. Pens, pencils, paper, filing cabinets, typewriters and, eventually, telephones were the norm, one generation to the next.

For these workers, collaboration required everyone to be in the same office, conference room or boardroom, attending the meeting in person. It may sound strange now, but when conference calls came on the scene, they were one of the biggest innovations in the ability to collaborate over distances. And this innovation is relatively recent, only arriving around the 1960s.

Today, technology advancements take collaboration to a new level, causing a seismic shift in the way we work. We talk, text, have video chats, share documents, email and browse the internet from mobile devices, using our smartphones as advanced communication tools that enable us to work – and work together – anywhere we choose.

And the prognosis only calls for more flexibility in how and where we collaborate. For example, virtual reality is enabling disparate participants in meetings to make presentations using natural body language and social cues to convey their message, making it feel as though they’re right here. And artificial intelligence will soon become our remote assistants able to help with creative and strategic intelligence to enhance company productivity.

So our collaboration tools are advancing at breakneck speed, but what about our collaboration techniques? As research shows, not all organizations are realizing collaboration with the kind of intent it takes to be successful.

Develop collaboration with purpose

Because collaboration is so central to success in the digital age, many leaders are adept at encouraging employees to collaborate more freely and more often.

But not all leaders give enough thought as to how collaboration should be done – or what impact it’s having on their team members as it happens. For example, consideration is rarely given on how to keep top employees from getting overloaded by too many projects done collaboratively.

In the most recent 20 years, the time that employees spend collaborating with others, via meetings, e-mails or phone calls, has increased at least 50 percent. Yet many organizations say they have no strategy for identifying if employees are burning out due to working with others instead of getting their individual work done.

Studies show that effective collaboration occurs when leaders work intentionally to create and support a culture that facilitates teamwork. In other words, it has to be done on purpose. In order to achieve collaboration with purpose, organizations must:

  • Model collaborative behaviors. Streamline the process that employees must go through to get a decision, ensuring the steps are minimized. Also, ensure that everyone knows who the decision-makers are. Reward others who also model collaborative behaviors.
  • Create sound networks. Help your team members, especially new members of the organization, connect with people in other areas to enhance their knowledge and skills. Educate leaders and contributors on how to build their own networks.
  • Organize work to avoid overload. Meetings in which employees are primarily tuned out, answering texts and emails, are unproductive uses of collaboration. Likewise, meetings that diverge from their purpose, go into overtime or never cover the topics for which they were called are poor uses of collaborative time. Encourage those doing similar work in different departments to share best practices.

The key takeaway here is not to assume that evolution of tools is equivalent to evolution of techniques. The strategies you use to ensure that employees work well in other areas of your organization apply to collaboration as well, no matter the tools at their disposal.

Thank you for reading. Do you agree with my ideas? Leave a comment and let me know.

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